A Monster Calls

First Hit:  Although intellectually interesting, this film fails to engage.

This film deals with acceptance, letting go, and facing fears. Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is a pale and frail young man who is picked on in school, is keeping house because his mum (Felicity Jones) is very sick, and has horrible dreams at night.

This film is dark not only in color in the scenes and topic it addresses, but in the way, all the characters are drawn. Although mum was optimistic in her engagement, there was a melancholy nature in her scenes that seemed to drive all the movie’s scenes.

The main part of the story is about Conor and how his dreams fuel his ability to create an alternate reality by which a Monster (Liam Neeson) appears to Conor at 12:07 and tells him three stories. In return the Monster requires that Conor to tell his truth and tell the Monster his horrible dream.

Adding to the difficulty Conor was having with his mom’s illness and dreams, his Dad (Toby Kebbell) lived in the United States, schoolmate Harry (James Melville) was beating him up, for no reason, on a daily basis, and his Grandma (Sigourney Weaver) was very strict and seemed unloving.

As this film works through this story to resolve the character’s difficulties, I struggled to stay engaged. This film seemed to languish as it unfolded. The slowness of the film, the lack of  character development, and the darkness left me wondering, through sections of the film, what was next.

This is not a children’s film although it is told through the eyes of a young boy. It is complex as the Monster tells stories that are supposed to help the boy however they are a bit esoteric and were lost on the boy and maybe the audience.

MacDougall was amazing in this role. He was very good at being, sullen, a picked on weakling and strong in the face of his mother’s death. Jones was OK. Unfortunately, it was my perception that her youngish look in this film made it hard for me to believe she was Conor’s mom. Neeson’s voice for the monster was really good and portrayed the darkness of this film really well. Kebbell was good as Conor’s dad who loved his son but not enough to bring him to the US and live with his current family. Melville was OK as the bully. Weaver was oddly cast and only until the end of the film did I engage with her in this role as Grandmother. One failing of this film was that there was little back story of the characters which caused me to have too many questions while watching. Patrick Ness wrote the screenplay. The lack of each character's history made it a difficult to believe and engage with. J.A. Bayona created some interesting segues between the fantasy of the dream world and the real world, but the lack of backstory, left me wondering most of the time.

Overall:  The film was lifeless with sparks of wonderful engagement.